Steven’s Pass didn’t have much, it was a crappy place to finish and start a section but I was set on getting to Stehekin as fast as possible. I grabbed my box, charged up my phone and was back out on trail as quick as I had came in. That afternoon I found myself hiking with Chopper and Gringledorff, one of whom I had met way back in the desert and the other who I had met the Sheriffs Deputy that was searching for him in the wrong place back by Big Bear. They were good company and made 10 miles go by fast.
I didn’t want a much longer afternoon so I cut my day short at Janus Lake. Gringledorff joined me for dinner before hiking on. We talked about the trail and it’s complications, we talked about being tired (that was a common theme among hikers), we talked about life after this. Gringledorff had spent much of his life as a professional server, he knew people and he knew how to talk. It was conversation I was happy to have to get my mind moving. Once he left Smokey and Crabby Dabby rolled in to camp for the night, I hadn’t met them before but they’d be my company most nights on the next stretch and most of the way to Canada.
The PCT wanders through Glacier Peak Wilderness for almost a hundred miles and many consider it to be one of the toughest sections of the PCT. The trail is overgrown in places and very remote, in some spots it’s eroding with a hundred foot drop off to the side. You climb up and down through glacial valleys and cross roaring rivers of murky glacial melt water as you try to work your way around the mountain on the “trail”. In other spots there’s fallen old growth trees who’s trunks are feet taller than you that you have to climb over to continue down the trail. It’s a difficult place to be, especially when you’ve already walked 2,500 miles.
Glacier Peak Wilderness is a beautiful place though. It’s got some of the largest trees you see on the PCT. The vistas of the mountains are amazing and you spend time in some truly incredible alpine environments. There’s fresh flowing, crystal clear water almost everywhere and you can find blueberries and huckleberries along the trail every other mile. It’s beautiful, but it challenging.
As I spent four days wandering around the mountain, winding my way towards the small town of Stehekin I thought often about the end. Dreaming of life after the trail. Ready to sit on a couch and watch movies all night. Ready to go have a beer and play a game of pool with friends. Ready to pet Wicket until all his hair falls out. Ready to walk to the fridge and get cold food, water and a soda. I missed the comfort of “normal life” and I was ready for the end.
On September 8th I walked out of Glacier Peak Wilderness and into North Cascades National Park at a place called High Bridge. A shuttle bus took me to the small town of Stehekin where I enjoyed delicious baked goods, beer, soda, a shower, laundry and all the other simple pleasures of town. I swam in the lake with new friends and bullshitted about plans for the last section of trail. It was a welcome break before getting ready to go finish my journey.
I woke up early the next day to the light pitter patter of rain on my tent. It was breezy and cool down by Lake Chelan as I waited for the bus to take me back to trail. I hit trail with the burn of being ready to be done. Quickly I hiked up to Rainy Pass at Highway 20, I could’ve so very easily called it quits here and gotten in a car to Seattle but I continued. Some trail magic on the north side of the highway gave me just the kick I needed to climb up to camp just below Cutthroat Pass. I was 57 miles from the end, I could finish in two full days if I really wanted to.
I didn’t have the energy to do that though, or the want. I figured I could do a full day to Hart’s Pass, a short day to within 15 miles of the Canadian boarder and then run the final day to the Northern Terminus and hike back to Hart’s. It was an ambitious plan. I’d have a medium day to Hart’s, a pretty easy day to my mid-point camp then a very long and tiring day back to Hart’s. But I figured that last day wouldn’t matter cause once I touched the monument there was no worry about needing to hike onwards. I’d be done. My body could be ruined for a bit, it would finally have the time to heal after four months of pounding.
Most of that plan worked out as I thought but I had an unexpected “the trail provides moment”. As I was starting to fall asleep on my final night my friend Fullmoon showed up where I was camping and called out “Flapjack?”, quietly wondering if he was at my tent. I poked my head out happy to see him. He told me he had a friend coming up Sunday morning and might have room for me to get a ride to Seattle. I was ecstatic, that was my biggest logistical hurdle of the end of trail, “How the hell do I get out of the middle of nowhere?”
So the final day I hit trail at 5AM and ran 15 miles to the Northern Terminus by 9AM. I enjoyed time there with friends soaking in the moment before running back to my camp halfway to Hart’s Pass by 2PM. I had a good amount of time to sit there and reflect while I waited for everyone else to return south. It was relaxing, the first time in months I had sat on trail and not felt like I needed to rush to be somewhere. It was like a regular old backpacking trip now.
I waited till about 5PM and Fullmoon hadn’t shown back up. All my other friends were hiking back to make a shorter day on Sunday. It started to rain and I was getting ancy so I wrote a note that I was heading back and left it at Fullmoon’s tent. What I thought would originally happen, happened. I hiked till 9PM and covered the 16 miles back to Hart’s Pass Campground. I wandered in with no one else there and took refuge from the rain under the awning of the bathroom. I’d covered 45 miles in 16 hours, my biggest day ever and my last of the PCT.
When I woke up Sunday morning and enjoyed a hot breakfast and a cup of coffee, it finally set in that I was done. It finally set in that I had completed this monumental undertaking. It also set in that I now had to begin pulling my life back together.
My belongings were scattered all over Ohio, I needed to get my doggo back, I was jobless, homeless and still smelled pretty bad. My first goal would be to get a good meal and a shower then let the rest fall into place. Just like we would always say on the PCT, “The trail provides”.
I woke up next to a beautiful lake a few miles outside of Rainier National Park. The night before had been the first night I camped alone the entire trail and the first night I stayed up late and looked at the stars. I had been on trail 110 days… It was cold and frosty that morning but I was excited to get to Chinook Pass where I’d be getting picked up to take a night off trail.
The day went by quickly, the miles were steep but in the afternoon they were dominated with views of Mt. Rainier. By 8PM I was laying in a hotel bed happy that I had rushed through 29 miles to get there. I had a belly full of food, cleanish clothes and soft shampooed hair. I thought about how easy it would be to just go to Seattle from there and fly home. How I could just be done. There was still more fun to be had though and I was still having fun with the hike.
I got back on trail late the next day. I debated for awhile if I was gonna go 18 miles or 23. 18 miles would put me on track to get to Snoqualmie by early evening on the 31st for a job interview and to enjoy my last night in a bed during the hike. 23 miles would put me on track, and then some and also let me sleep in a cozy ski cabin for the night. I figured I’d see how fast I covered the miles and play it by ear, something I was happy to be able to do hiking solo. By 8PM I got to the cabin right as the sun was setting. I happily made pancakes for my friends there before dozing off to sleep by a warm fire.
The following day I was already back to dreaming about town. Snoqualmie was only a day and a half away but it felt like ages. I lost the group I was hiking with when I decided to setup camp before then. I was happy though, it started raining right as they walked past me. I sat in my tent that night watching the news on my phone trying to catch-up with the world.
I’d get to Snoqualmie on Tuesday the 31st, it was a wet and rainy day, I couldn’t have been anymore excited that I had booked a room at the Summit Inn for the night. I spent that evening dry; doing job interviews, eating pizza, sipping local beer and watching movies (thank you to everyone who donated to the Dirt Bag Fund a week or two ago, you made this dream a reality). It was exactly what I needed to get me ready for the final 250 miles of trail.
On the 1st I hit trail later in the day but still covered some good miles. The climb out of Snoqualmie was the first BIG climb I’d had in awhile. It would come to be the standard of northern Washington, big climbs and big descents. The trail went straight up and then straight down every valley that it could. The days of simple ridge walks or wandering along a valley floor for a bit were over. To get 25 miles in a day now meant 6,000’ of climbing a day.
The views were beautiful in this section. Each valley was different, some were lush and green, others harsh and rocky. The challenge made sense, you couldn’t get to see this beauty and finish the trail easy. There had to be a final hurdle. I was lucky to spend some of those miles with Fullmoon, Prime Time and Skippy. They were an unsuspecting group that I sort of flung myself into at Snoqualmie but they seemed happy to have me along once I made them pancakes.
Before I knew it I had found my way to Steven’s Pass. That last day in I’d seen 3 bears, it made the miles seem a little longer than they should have. I was lucky to be able to get my package on time and continue quickly back out onto the trail into Glacier Peak Wilderness. I wanted nothing more the past few days then to be in Stehekin, on the precipice of finishing this grand journey and mighty challenge that’s taken me four months to complete. So close and so tired.